In Jeffrey Cohen’s “The Werewolf’s Indifference” blog post he mentioned violence and werewolves and humans. This was interesting to me because a lot of the violence in the werewolf stories we read was actually done by humans, not the monstrous werewolves. (I looked back through some of the werewolf posts on our blog and I didn’t see anyone tackling this subject, so I don’t think I’m stealing anyone else’s idea. Maybe we talked about it in class, and if we did, sorry I’m not giving credit where credit is due)
Jeffrey quotes Marie de France’s opening lines, “A werewolf is a savage beast: / while his fury is on him / he eats men, does much harm, / goes deep in the forest to live” and this would make the reader think that as a werewolf Bisclavret is a monster. He isn’t though; he is just wild and has some of the best times of his life as a werewolf. In Bisclavret, and in Biclarel the humans are the ones who torture the Wife of the werewolf. True, the werewolf gets his revenge by biting off the nose of the wife, but this is done in revenge. To me the worst violence committed is by the king and the other humans when they torture the truth out of the wife.
It’s a bit chilling to read about this and Jeffrey’s comment on it is that “Torture compels the disfigured woman to reveal her crime, and she admits the stealing of his transfigurative clothes.” I wonder if we as readers are supposed to have indifference toward the torture and the human violence? Or should we be a little put off by it? Remember in Sir Cleges, we discussed the oddity of the violence at the end with the whipping of the three people who held Cleges up on his way to the king. The torture and violence done by the humans toward the end of the werewolf stories is again strange. Maybe violence by humans shouldn’t be so strange after all.
Jeffrey Cohen’s discussion last week was structured around the stone, the most basic of tangible things. Stones don’t really do much, and their simplicity of form and stagnancy in space and time have earned them the scorn of active, human writers. To “have a heart of stone” is to have an unfeeling heart, reflecting the predominant view that stones, as objects, have no feelings or agency. Cohen then went on to disprove this claim, and I believe that
Professor Seaman brought up an idea yesterday that I had never considered, that Clege’s attributing the winter cherries to a supernatural power is no different from how we attribute bizarre events to SCIENCE. For the most part, this has been successful, but there are still countless events that we can’t account for. For instance, gravity is a mystery that we quantify but can’t explain. It’s power is simply attributed to science, and we gladly leave it at that while we wait for an explanation to be revealed.
Cohen’s discussion of simple building blocks coupled with our discussion of scientific explanations led me to contemplate the agency of atoms and elements. I changed Biology advisors this semester, as my advisor for the past two years is overseas at the moment. I expected to show him my plan and get his signature, but he had none of that. As soon as he saw that I had taken organic chemistry, he stunned me with a simple question: where does carbon come from? I had studied the damn thing for a year, and I had no response. I just accepted its existence according to SCIENCE and left it at that. For the next forty minutes, he walked me through the origins of all the elements of matter. In short, just as our sun emits alpha radiation in the form of helium in the process of fusion, larger, denser stars of the past emited radiation in the form of larger elements, from cesium to carbon to our helium. Our bodies and our world are stardust, which sounds like something out of a fairy tale. Although my advisor seemed satisfied when he’d finished explaining, I was far from satisfied. Yes, our matter comes from the stars. But we can only speculate on where stars came from, with the theory of the big bang. We still have to put our faith in science in order to get by in the world. Even if we’re able to explain some of the mysteries of the universe, I fear there will never be an end to humanity’s questions, and that we will always have to rely on faith to explain the world, just like Sir Cleges.
My favorite part of last class was actually at the very beginning when we all went around the room and talked about things that surprised us or that we found interesting. I was amazed by all the different answers and the way that Jeffrey Cohen responded to each question. It was like a 5 second lecture on everything we have talked about the whole semester. The questions given to us in that short amount of were very thought provoking. I was particularly interested in Miranda’s feelings about spirituality conflicting with the theories and ideas that we have discussed in class. I can definitely see where she is coming from with the flattening of hierarchy, but this isn’t something I’ve thought about much at all until yesterday. I’m actually pretty surprised that it hadn’t crossed my mind until Miranda brought it up. When I think about it now I don’t really see it interfering with spirituality because in the texts we’ve read things have been at work while hierarchy has clearly still existed. I really appreciated Jeffrey Cohen’s answer and how he pointed out that the people of the Middle Ages were deeply spiritual yet we can easily find thing power at work in the lais of Marie de France. People of the middle ages gave power to things through spirituality. Although it is possible to find many examples of vibrant materialism, assemblages, and actants in the lais that we have read in class, we also see hierarchy in every text. The kings rule the people and have the loyalty and generosity of their knights. The knights reign above their wives and the magical or fairy world is above the real world of knights and kings. This shows that although their is clearly hierarchical systems thing theory and vibrant materialism can coexist.